The Epic of Gilgamesh

The Epic of Gilgamesh Study Guide

The Epic of Gilgamesh is an ancient epic poem from Mesopotamia dating back to roughly 2000 BCE. It is believed to be one of the earliest works of literature in human history. Scholars believe that its origins were in ancient Sumerian poems that were later collected into an Akkadian epic in the 18th or 17th century BCE. Hormuzd Rassam, an Assyrian archaeologist, first discovered the clay tablets that record the epic in 1853, in modern-day Iraq. They were first translated by George Smith, a British Assyriologist, and were first published in the early 1870s.

Eleven tablets make up the main body of the poem. A twelfth tablet was likely added later, but it is not clear why. The twelfth tablet uses similar imagery and concepts but is not sequential to the other eleven. This last tablet is sometimes omitted from translations for this reason.